April 25, 2004

Can't Go Home Again

Magpie has written on the current debate over whether religion can be mixed with left politics. In case readers hadn't seen certain other posts on the topic, I point to Electrolite clarifying his position after a post which pointed to Kevin Drum's take on the Air America incident. Also, Making Light posted a list of beliefs a bit ago that makes, without claiming to, a pretty decent case that progressive ideals and religious sentiment may be quite comfy in the very same person.

Anyhow, I say mix away.

I had the kind of Christian fundamentalist (as opposed to the other kinds of Christianity and fundamentalism) upbringing and subsequent break from it that usually leaves people in the anti-religion camp for a good long while. But it took a lot longer to get rid of the dogmatic fundamentalism. You know, 'us' against the world, absolutes of right and wrong, believing that I can tell without a shadow of doubt what's good or evil for all time. And, if I'm in an honest mood, I'll admit that I relapse on occasion. But.

As a liberal, I shouldn't have to be reminded that things are complicated, rarely black and white. As someone who has devoutly hoped that the rest of the world wouldn't hold Bush against individual Americans, I shouldn't have to be reminded that a few screwy leaders or members do not a group damn.

My rebellious irritation with all religion fell to the onslaught of a groovy Episcopalian, and another friend of indeterminate Christian denomination who wrote good music and kept a great stash. Neither of them were very keen on the idea of witch burnings, opposed to science, or especially eager to express sorrow over my imminent doom at the hands of an angry God. They didn't do anything especially newsworthy, but they were good friends, and kind people. I owe both of them big time for sowing doubts about my own opinions of 'all religious people everywhere.'

And it isn't like there aren't many larger instances of people with faith trying to make the world a gentler place by whatever means they had. As a recent example, the record will show that when even the Democratic party caved in to Bush on invading Iraq, both the United Methodist Church and the Vatican called for a more serious attempt at trying diplomacy before bombs.

Religion isn't perfect, but as with any human institition, you have to take the good with the bad. It's used as a force for social justice, a base for regressive policy, a social network, an excuse for bad conduct, a force of reconciliation, as an opiate, a comfort to the weary, an overcoat for nationalism and bigotry, and periodically as a vehicle for exploring the sacred. It gets even more entertaining when all of the above descriptions could be applied to the very same denomination, or even the same congregation. Indeed, the relationship of the human race with religion entails exactly the sort of moral ambiguity and cultural relativism that liberals should relish grappling with.

Personally, I've become more or less neutral about organized religion. While I'm usually happy to keep my spiritual tendencies to myself (and anyway, no one can be up to any good early on a weekend morning when reasonable people sleep in ;), I even like some of them. But though I've come closer to a reconciliation with religion, the old fundamentalism is mighty uncomfortable.

Very illiberal, you know.

Posted by natasha at April 25, 2004 11:47 AM | Faith | TrackBack(1) | Technorati links |

In your personal opinion do you think blogging has become a popular and more mainstream pursuit because people no longer go to church and use a blog as a kind of confessional chamber to air guilty secrets?

Or could it be down to the fact that the family unit has broken down and we no longer share stories with our families? Hmm what do you reckon?

Just some theories I am banding about for a college feature I am writing.

I'd appreciate it if you would reply,

kind regards,



Posted by: mb at April 25, 2004 11:57 AM

Hmm. I prefer to keep my guilty secrets off my blog, and can't speak for anyone else. Also, if you're following the links in the post, you'll find that some of the people involved in this discussion both attend church *and* keep blogs, nor are they the only ones.

I think a reason blogs have become popular is because the one thing people never seem to tire of is finding new ways to talk with each other, and new places to do it in. There has been some degeneration of the public sphere in the US, and people much more knowledgeable have written about it, but it's more pervasive than just church attendance.

Blogs are probably also gaining in popularity, I think, because of the strength of weak ties. People reaching out to those with whom they share some singular interest, activity, or ideology, but have no close or familial bond with. Many jobs are found through weak ties in the offline world.

And ultimately, it's unsurprising that people would use the weak ties of blog communities to discuss the types of things ad nauseum that you can't always expect your family and best friends to sit still for. When I get going talking about politics around non polit-junkies, they look at me like I've got an extra head. Sometimes in a 'wow, would you look at that' kind of way, and sometimes in a 'damn, I wish I hadn't brought this up' sort of way.

And, erm, it's bandying. Not banding. Which is nitpicky, but I'm up too late, and I haven't the self-restraint to rein in the word police.

Posted by: natasha at April 25, 2004 12:24 PM

I really like your description of all the uses people have for organized religion. You get it! It really is a human institution. Having been a practicing Catholic for many of my years I am not shocked by this. My understanding is that faith is to be lived in community - and that odd assortment in the pews around me - and including me - is a good enough place to practice the charity and non-judgementalism we are reminded of in the readings.
Singing together seems to help...

Posted by: c at April 25, 2004 03:13 PM

Religion is OK - until you become a zealot who divides the world between good people (like yourself) and others who are evil. This is what Osama bin Laden does. This is what the the Saudis do. Unfortunately, this is what Bush does.

See my article Zealotry Breeds Zealotry.

Posted by: Paul Siegel at April 26, 2004 12:08 AM

I guess the thing is that people have never run across something they couldn't use for nefarious purposes, including religion, of course. That doesn't mean you can't get something out of it individually.

As with so many other things, it wouldn't really cause any problems if people worried more about what they were doing than what those around them were doing. Christians really have very little excuse for that one, because it's printed right there in the book.

Posted by: natasha at April 26, 2004 04:47 PM

Erm, natasha, I believe it's "ad nauseam," not "ad nauseum." The Word Police strikes again... and I don't even have the excuse of being up late!

Michelle, I almost never blog on Sunday morning, my family unit has not broken down, and the few confessions to be found on my blog are rather boring. Maybe you should try researching your feature by interviewing a few bloggers honestly, without projecting your a priori theories onto your subjects. I suspect you'll find that one size does not fit all.

Excuse me; I have to go... I've volunteered to help some researchers who are bandying some birds. ;)

Posted by: Steve Bates at April 26, 2004 05:18 PM